Site maps the abandoned railroads of America

Originally published at: Site maps the abandoned railroads of America | Boing Boing


At least a number of these have been converted into bike trails, walking trails, or greenways, instead of laying there uselessly


potential elements of passenger light rail services that will never exist.

Those short routes always struck me as a potential opportunity for someone to get a handcar and charge people a nominal fee to be taken back and forth. For example, there’s a college in North Carolina where an abandoned track runs, uninterrupted by road crossings, from the campus to the downtown bar scene. Perfect for a handcar service to carry people down to get drunk, and home safely.


one of the many rusting lines across the country which always strike me as potential elements of passenger light rail services that will never exist.

There have been successful efforts to restore and extend existing rail lines in eastern PA:

I’m also hoping to see rail service restored from Orlando to New Orleans:


A classic Charles Addams cartoon has a couple of gangsters tying a victim to some railroad tracks, with a trackside homeowner leaning over their fence and interjecting that while it may be none of their business, there hasn’t been a train on the line in 18 years.


Yeah, that was going to be my two cents’ worth. Dr Beeching in the UK was indirectly responsible for creating many bike trails a few decades after he closed so many local lines.

It has long since been pretty well accepted by any sane person with the vaguest awareness of economics that investment in railway infrastructure and provision of regular services is a HUGE driver of wider economic growth. But because those benefits are largely diffuse (“wider economic growth”) and do not accrue directly to the railway investors, the ‘private capital invisible hand free market’ the US is so keen on does not bother to invest its own money. And because the ‘private capital invisible hand free market’ has attained the status of worshipped godhead (and govt investment is socialism is the devil), the level of economic growth the US could experience is diluted. And what you end up with is cycle tracks at best.

Well done, oh great invisible hand.



I looked up Maine (my stomping grounds) and was happy to see they had record of the restored service that takes my dad from home to work. The man is 75 and should retire, but that’s another issue. He loves a train-ride!


I’ll admit I looked up my favorite bike / general use trail immediately! It’s not actually listed as an abandoned railway, although it’s a reclaimed railbed and you can still see some of the concrete blocks along its length. Perhaps there’s an age cut off to qualifying for the list?

1 Like

These folks are trying.

Vivarail has introduced a battery-powered train in the US by retrofitting railcars with Lithion Battery’s Valence battery modules.

This initiative is part of a Railroad Development Corporation (RDC)-backed rail pilot project called Pop-Up Metro.

Pop-Up Metro initiative aims to increase the size of the rail transit market by allowing metropolitan areas with current light-density rail freight lines to undertake demonstration operations on a speedy timeline.

RDC chairman Henry Posner III said: “A lot of urban areas in this country have underutilised freight lines that could also support transit service.

“People might not have considered these opportunities because it’s been perceived as too expensive, too lengthy and too risky. With Pop-Up Metro, you can do that project quickly on a demonstration basis.”


Huh. On an almost weekly basis, I drive on a road that apparently was once the ROW for the The Kerrville Branch, just outside Comfort, TX. I would have never guessed in a million years that there was once a railway there. There is absolutely nothing there that would suggest it.

That being said, and speaking of abandoned rail lines, I can highly recommend the Old Tunnel State Park, which I believe was on the old Waring to Fredericksburg line.

1 Like

By coincidence, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the operations and economics of railroads throughout the history of the US and Canada. Basically, passenger heavy rail has never been profitable on its own merits in the entire history of the technology. It has always been a marketing gimmick, essentially, subsidized by freight. Places where passenger heavy rail have been successful have been government subsidized, and continue to be so (either directly like Via Rail in Canada, or through use of publicly-funded infrastructure and other socialized losses). I suspect this is true of elsewhere in the world as well. The reasons were unrelated to distances, density, or other things usually blamed for poor rail in North America.

All this to say your point is quite correct- left to their own devices, the companies won’t fix this. It needs government support and intervention on the basis that passenger rail is a pretty unambiguous societal good for so many reasons (environmental, economic, social mobility, etc, etc). Investing public money in it makes sense for the same reason as fire departments, ambulances, utilities, etc.


Before it was dismantled and covered up, this one made Santa Monica Blvd. everyone’s last choice as a major road in West L.A.

I also checked for the High Line in NYC but it was not there. Probably too small, too specialised, and not part of a major company’s lines.

Part of a broad movement. These trails, especially in urban areas, are loved by local residents. One I frequent a lot used to be the ROW for a 19th century commuter rail line serving the city’streetcar suburbs.


One in my area goes back to 1809. :woman_shrugging:t4: I am wondering about the sources, because there are comments on some lines referring to corrections or omissions in the content.


That train-whistle he did is so like Tuvan throat singing! Overtone, tone, undertone fry, singing three notes at once. Nicely done, Boxcar Willie!


In some cases, a reactivation might be just some innovations away.


We’ve been on a lot of rails to trails for biking and running. The very best one is in Downtown Detroit, it’s a 2 mile stretch of a Grand Trunk rail line. It starts at the Detroit River and ends at Eastern Market. Eastern Market is a huge outdoor food market where many restaurants get their fresh fruits and vegetables.

There’s a plaza, an outdoor bar, and an outdoor stage along the way. The weekends are hoping with activity.

We like biking it and then biking another 5 miles over to Belle Isle. Detroit gets such a bad rap but there is so much like this that never gets any attention.

The before and after.


This looks great! However, it brings two concerns to mind. I wonder if this would be capable of navigating on rails in poor condition. Also, this might need to return to the roads near train stations to avoid encountering trains. That would cause delays at the end of the journey, due to limitations of station platforms or vehicle traffic nearby.


Here’s one other great conversion in our area. This one gets foot traffic, bikes, and horses. We’ve been on it quite a few times. It’s about 670’ long and 60’ above the ground.

Before and after.


Oh man that website’s gonna be a big time sink for me…

1 Like